Parents of Picky Eaters, Take Heart: This Author-Dad Understands

Lambeth Hochwald
·Writer/Editor
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When “Go the F**k to Sleep" came out in 2011, parents everywhere breathed a sigh of relief. Finally, here was someone — author Adam Mansbach — who told the truth about that great parental frustration: getting your little kid to sleep through the night. And now, come November 12th, Mansbach returns with "You Have to F**king Eat," a sequel of sorts that touches on the desperate measures parents will take to get their kids to eat something that even vaguely resembles a normal meal. Mansbach, a novelist and father to Vivien, 6, spoke exclusively to Yahoo Parenting about food, this new work, and how his life has changed since the release of his first book, which became an international bestseller:

Yahoo Parenting: So tell me about Vivien. Is she obsessed with mac-n-cheese or is she a pretty good eater?

Adam Mansbach: She’s an adventurous eater, but food can be an issue one day and not the next. The conversations I have with her go as follows: “Wow, I find it fascinating that you hate pancakes because you asked for them 15 minutes ago.” I know other parents can relate to that.

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YP: What is it about eating that gets to parents?

AM: I think eating is an incredibly sensitive issue for parents. Food is one of the central pleasures of life for most of us, and I think when kids reject the joy of eating or the concept of putting sustenance into your body so you stay alive, it pushes all our buttons as parents. We think, “If I can’t convince you of this, what’s wrong with me? What’s wrong with you?”

YP: Not to mention that figuring out what foods are best has become stressful.

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Exclusive spread from the book. Courtesy of the publisher

AM: Absolutely. We’re living in a scary time for food. We question whether we’re even feeding our kids right. Who among us hasn’t thought that the salmon we’re pushing our kids to eat has probably been radiated and is full of mercury?

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YP: Seems like how good of an eater your kid is has become a competitive sport, too, doesn’t it?

AM: We’ve all gone out with other families and seen how other kids eat and that can lead to one-upmanship, which is the worst part of parenting culture. Your kids’ eating habits are right out there in public and we all know that parent whose kid only wants to eat processed chicken nuggets. For a lot of parents, food is the primary area where they compromise, and then they feel bad about themselves.

YP: Was writing this second book part of a grand plan?

AM: I was skeptical about writing a series. What I didn’t want to do was to rush it or do anything that would feel either derivative or forced. I wanted to let that first book breathe.

YP: Why do you think your first book resonated so much around the world?

AM: It was honest and funny about sleep, something that was taboo to discuss. I think the paradox of the culture of parenting today is that there’s a tremendous stream of talk about it, but even with all the blogs and all the sharing, there are still things that people aren’t entirely honest about. People can end up feeling isolated in the struggle of raising kids. There’s a script to follow, but it doesn’t allow for honesty.

YP: Did you ever think you’d be considered a spokesperson for parents today?

AM: There have been multiple moments where I get called a parenting expert. I’m like, “You do realize I wrote an obscene fake children’s book, right?” That’s my qualification. I think my philosophy about parenting is that you should embrace the absurdity and have as much fun as you can.

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YP: Has your daughter read either book?

AM: She’s a smart kid so I’m sure she knows what the first book is about. Since she’s older now, she has become a big part of the process for this book. She’s asked to see every illustration and her photo is on the cover. Whether she gets it in a larger sense, I’m not sure. At some point she’ll understand that it’s because of these books that she can live in a house and not in a discarded box on the freeway.

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Author Adam Mansbach. Photo by Matthew L. Kaplan